It’s almost flu shot season again, but if needles send you flying into outer space, even the nastiest strains of Earth influenza are no match for the extraterrestrial maladies encountered by the crew of the Enterprise. Fatigue and congestion don’t seem too traumatic next to monstrous microscopic things that can go from eating your brains to quite literally burning you alive. Zinc drops and chamomile tea are also preferable any day to some of the treatments—think alien radiation and even spacetime warps.
From the irritating and unsightly to the downright lethal, these airborne and bloodborne pathogens from the Star Trek universe might just give you enough incentive to roll up your sleeve and arm yourself against the Levodian flu.
If you remember glopping medicated concealer on between classes like it was the most desperate situation in the universe, that has nothing on alien acne. Klingon zits could have meant missing prom. The moon crater Worf develops in Insurrection could have easily distorted half a teenage human face, and a chocolate binge wasn’t even the culprit (and we all know that’s a myth); try exposure to the otherworldly radiation on a strange planet. The regenerative powers of the light on Ba’ku are supposed to make you radiant by reversing the aging process. That might sound like one of those miracle creams in a teen magazine ad until you realize it really does take your complexion back in time —Klingon-size pimples and all.
Quazulu VIII Virus
You may never visit the perfume counter again after Dr. Crusher diagnoses you with Quazulu VIII. Imagine breathing in the heady scent of night-blooming throngi only to discover you have now breathed in an airborne malady that mutates in under half an hour. This Venus flytrap of viruses works by releasing a heady scent eerily reminiscent of the nocturnal Klingon flower (which we imagine must smell something like moonflower or jasmine). No wonder it doesn’t take long for the Enterprise crew to be infected as they orbit an alien planet in The Next Generation. While there is no known virus that disguises itself as perfume on earth, the corpse flower lures in carnivorous insects with its own air freshener that mimics rotting flesh.
Think more lethal virus than classical music. This not-so-elegant affliction that surfaces in The Next Generation is actually a plasma plague that has nine lives. It can float in space for years as a fungus-like spore until it finds its next victim or the exotic plasma radiation it craves — whichever comes first. Then, it just sits back on its proverbial lounge chair, kicks back both of its flagella and waits for doctors to try every known treatment on it until they all inevitably fail. Read: Legato is incurable. Most likely to ravage densely populated areas like the Rachelis system in the Trek-verse, the spread of this invisible killer with the deceptively smooth name mirrors virulent epidemics that have terrorized Earth (SARS, anyone?).
Forget that sickly shade of feverish when you could have a multicolor malady that makes you go from blue, red, to yes, green. The auroral plague turns its victim into a living magic lamp. Aurora borealis interference causes the fatal rainbow infection, which exterminates most of Dramia II’s population in Technicolor after Dr. McCoy injects them with a faulty vaccine in the animated series. It also nearly wipes out the entire crew after they risk landing in the biohazard zone to clear McCoy of malpractice charges. The only existing antidote is the antibodies for a Saurian, aka lizard, virus. Which means you’d essentially need to be injected with a dinosaur disease. Be glad if you have pointed ears and impeccable logic: Vulcans are immune.
Ever been warned about the dangers of ennui? Total cellular breakdown probably wasn’t what your college professor had in mind while lecturing on extreme boredom inevitably leading to evil in Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs de Mal. Dr. Elias Giger of Deep Space Nine theorizes that human cells are nothing more than drones who become sick of the never-ending drudgery of multiplying and metabolizing in the human body, until they start dying off from boredom and making the owner of said body even sicker. Think of it as muscle or bone atrophy on steroids. To keep cells from going on strike, Giger devises a microscopic flea circus he called his “cellular regeneration and entertainment chamber” that has the rest of the crew questioning his sanity.
Too much tinkering in the lab can lead to the accidental genesis of a new disease, as Dr. Beverly Crusher finds out in The Next Generation. Desperately trying to activate the gene that is supposed to cure an alien flu in a crewmate, she realizes too late that the artificial T-cells she uses reanimate every last one of his dormant genes. That includes introns — crucial to gene expression. While symptoms start off like the flu (don’t they always), DNA will then “de-evolve” into nonhuman codes. Unfortunately, this glob of degenerative genes soon crawls out of its petri dish. When it becomes airborne, the crew turns into everything from a jellyfish to an iguana to an enormous acid-spewing cockroach, which just has to be Worf.
Klingon Augment Virus
There is probably a scientific law that says those with the gnarliest faces get the gnarliest diseases. There is probably also a law that says messing with alien flu viruses will inevitably spawn something worse (see Intron Virus). Gung-ho warrior Klingons in Deep Space Nine think it a wise idea to inject a bioengineered strain of Levodian flu into frozen embroys for the ultimate superpowered bat’leh-wielding front line. The DNA is incompatible. Even worse, an accidental mashup of augment and the flu it was derived from creates a lethal virus cocktail that not only comes close to making Klingon race go extinct from neural breakdown, but — the horror — erases their pride with their forehead ridges. Because that’s so much worse than having your entire nervous system degenerate.
Life Prolongation Complex
At first, this epidemic from the original Star Trek series sounds like the Holy Grail of immortality, until it starts to look more like the Blue Plague. It certainly kills in about the same time frame as its black ancestor. Within as little as a few hours of being infected, you’re covered in huge blueberry lesions, and your metabolism is irreversibly breaking down, not to mention the part about a skyrocketing fever, unthinkable pain, delusions that bloom into complete insanity, and metabolic damage so severe you can’t even be shot with a phaser set to stun and expect to stay alive, even if you’re Captain Kirk. “Life Prolongation Complex” might also be the most sarcastic name for a killer disease ever on record.
There is almost no better bio-weapon than a lethal and almost undetectable virus that could seep into your bloodstream through your skin, but there is also no scarier thought than a brush of your hand against any random thing being a brush with death. The alien races who used the superbug as a fatally gene-altering method of combat in Deep Space Nine didn’t exactly break out the disinfectant after the war was over. What’s even scarier is, far from colossal amounts of lemon-scented cleaner, even intense radiation won’t exterminate the invisible monster. So long as you stay out of war zones in space, no known viruses or bacteria on Earth will expend the effort to enter through unbroken skin. They just aren’t interested.
It’s purely logical that being disassembled on a molecular level and reassembled somewhere light-years away should have side effects. While most of Starfleet makes it to the other side in one piece, some are not all there. When everything you’re made of is ripped apart, that includes gray matter — as some unfortunate crew members find out in The Next Generation. Those who can’t exactly be put back together again are plagued by paranoid delusions, dementia, hysteria, and every type of hallucination in the DSM-5. Superglue will never fix your brain’s ability to reason. Quantum theory may insist beaming someone up could be possible, and even a few molecules have survived the process on a (much) smaller scale, but physics thankfully isn’t there yet.
Not to be confused with Harry Potter’s polyjuice potion, polywater is molecularly warped H2O. You only have to drink this nectar from the collapse of a planet or star to achieve a perpetual state of drunkenness — but you might want to pause before you raise that shot glass of polymerized water. It also makes your blood melt from a frozen state (dangerous if an infected sample is in the lab’s sub-zero), ooze along surfaces and even jump to another unsuspecting victim like it has a mind of its own. It’s also highly contagious. The condition first discovered in the original Star Trek series went on to intoxicate so much as Data’s positronic android brain in The Next Generation, and he isn’t even a carbon-based life form.
Want to be a zombie for Halloween? Ditch the makeup, because a case of Teplan blight from Deep Space Nine will have you looking undead in no time. Evil-looking spider veins and lesions cover every inch of your body before it inevitably kills you. As a morbid last hurrah, the spiderwebs turn a ghastly blood red in the terminal phase, so at least your corpse will look like a zombie movie extra. Exposure to electromagnetic fields can possibly eradicate the blight — if you have no pain receptors, otherwise, immense convulsions will make you writhe in pain until you plead for death. There is one upside to the incurable Teplan blight: it only affects the Teplan race. Just get a DNA check to be sure.
There are viruses that turn you into a zombie, and there are viruses that turn you into a cyborg. The one positive thing about zombie pathogens is that you rise from your coffin clamoring for brains almost instantaneously. Nanoprobe virus will have you turned into a drone before you even realize what is happening to you, if you realize it at all. So will half the planet. This is because the Borg Queen intends to assimilate all of species 5618 (aka humans) into cyborg automatons by releasing her bio-weapon into Earth’s atmosphere, as revealed in Voyager. We already have enough institutions trying to drone-ify us as it is, so the last thing we need is a brainwashing virus. Zombification for the win.
Just the word “parasite” is enough to eat anyone's brain. Now, try parasites that just crawled out of a mysterious chasm existing somewhere outside spacetime. No 22nd-century antidotes have had any success in Enterprise, because the treatments themselves would have to exist in the same parallel universe from which the monsters came. They can be destroyed by an antiproton beam, but only before they invade your brain and start gnawing on your hippocampus (the source of memory in the brain), which blocks you from remembering anything since the infection. You might not even remember being infected — which might be a positive considering the one effective treatment. The only way to obliterate these things once they have taken over human flesh is to vaporize the victim.
Vulcans have some almost supernatural immunities — but some even scarier diseases. This is why you never get a back-alley mind meld. Your nervous system disintegrates to the point that neurons are unable to relay messages, which leads to total body breakdown and dismantles your endocrine and immune systems. Spock help you if you reach the advanced stages alive, because the cure was lost thousands of years ago. Not to mention the fact that you will be disgraced and shunned by your own people. If the symptoms sound vaguely familiar to any child of the '80s or '90s who remembers the fear and prejudice surrounding the AIDS scare, Pa’nar Syndrome was the Star Trek crew’s metaphoric contribution to HIV awareness in an episode of Enterprise aptly titled Stigma.
Werewolves beware: any sort of shapeshifter or chimera needs to avoid this degenerative disease from Deep Space NIne. It's even worse if you have an impulse to rip off your shirt and howl with abandon at the first sign of the full moon, because the faster your natural transformation process, the faster the virus will incubate and then brandish its own claws to attack. Genetic muations in the morphogenic matrix (think of those werewolf transformation stage charts) make you more susceptible — especially if you can go from solid to liquid state and back. While symptoms are mysterious despite the fact that it makes your entire body deteriorate, morphogenic virus was created as a bio-weapon against a band of Changelings threatening to invade Earth.
Symbalene Blood Burn
Dragon tongues of fire lashing you from the inside out could be one of the most painful ways to die in any galaxy. This terror from the original Star Trek series blazes a trail through your cardiovascular system and literally boils away the tissue lining your veins, meaning you’ll run a fever high enough to make the sun jealous. As a human torch, you’ll experience excruciating pain and exploding capillaries—meaning, you’re likely to be covered in blotches the size of black holes before the fire dies and takes you with it. This disease also spreads like flames and can incinerate billions of people (humanoid or otherwise) in a matter of days. At least you won’t feel the burn for long, because this hot-tempered pathogen kills in just a few minutes.